Homeowners association bans flagpole construction
       Man angry over decision; group says issue one of architectural compliance 

Friday, March 29, 2002
Courtesy Las Vegas Review-Journal 

Robert Koelle was offended and disillusioned when his homeowners association prohibited construction of the backyard flagpole from which he planned to fly Old Glory. 

"I actually feel they're taking my rights away," the retired Department of Defense worker said. "This is going to be the reason I leave this place." 

The Southern Highlands Community Association, however, sees the issue as one of architectural compliance. 

Association Secretary Jason Jones said the association's covenants, conditions and restrictions (CC&Rs) prohibit homeowners from planting flagpoles on their properties or displaying flags. He said that includes the American flag. 

But in light of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, the association decided to allow residents to fly the American flag on their property, Jones said. Just not on a flagpole. 

"He (Koelle) could go out tonight and hang it from his garage or anywhere he wants to," he said. "But if it's a physical structure -- i.e. a flagpole -- then it's a different question." 

Sen. Mike Schneider, D-Las Vegas, said he is introducing legislation that would make it illegal for homeowners associations to ban the display of the American flag. 

The legislation will also seek to define what is an appropriate display. This could entail addressing the maximum size or height of flags and flagpoles. 

The Las Vegas City Council in November adopted such an ordinance, which was sponsored by Mayor Oscar Goodman. Koelle's home is not located within the city limits, and therefore this ordinance does not apply to his case. 

Schneider said he personally does not believe a 20-foot flagpole, such as the one Koelle wants to build, is excessive. 

"I think homeowners associations just get carried away. I think what happens is they get bad advice from attorneys. If they stopped listening to attorneys, a lot of these problems would go away," he said. 

Schneider said he believes attorneys fear that permitting displays of the American flag will open the floodgates for other types of political and religious expression. 

"That's what attorneys do, they get carried away with this," he said. "Personally, I think attorneys just want them to get into these little neighborhood wars so they can bill them for more money." 

Schneider, who sponsored successful bills expanding the rights of homeowners in 1997 and 1999, said the issue is growing as more people move into developments managed by homeowner associations. 

Koelle is a resident of the Bella Vicenza subdivision, located in the rapidly growing area south of Blue Diamond Road in unincorporated Clark County. He said he first submitted his proposal for a 20-foot flagpole in his back yard in February. 

The Bella Vicenza Homeowners Association approved the request. But in a letter dated March 20, the Southern Highlands Community Association, which acts as an umbrella organization for Bella Vicenza and a number of other developments, turned down the request. 

"Everywhere I went, I had a flagpole," Koelle said. "I rank this homeowners association the same as the Hitler association back in 1930s Germany." 

Koelle acknowledges that he didn't read the hundreds of pages of CC&Rs before he signed the contract and moved into his new home in October. Thumbing through it while being interviewed Thursday, he said, it's a decision he regrets. 

"If they enforced everything in here, you wouldn't be living. You'd just exist," Koelle said. 

Kevin Wallace, president of RMI Management, which enforces the association's CC&Rs, said Koelle hasn't returned to the board with any sort of proposed compromise, such as a smaller flagpole. 

"He's being a little unreasonable about it," Wallace said. "When you go into a master-planned community, there are deed restrictions and that's what you agree to. I thought the board took a pretty reasonable stance."

    Wynlakes owner Willis stands by his flag(pole)
Courtesy of the Montgomery Independent
Brad Ploeger 

Zess Willis, a resident of the Wynlakes neighborhood, has stirred a bit of controversy among the well-kept lawns of his subdivision. Willis decided, in order to show his support for American forces operating around the globe, to erect a 15-foot flag pole on his property. One problem with his plan: the homeowner's association in Wynlakes only allows residents to display flags on trees or on their houses, not from free-standing poles. Instead of saluting the new flagpole, the homeowner's association demanded that Willis remove the pole at once. 

Willis was given the flagpole as a birthday gift from his father. He liked the idea of a flagpole because it allowed him to fly a flag at half staff at proper times, a thing that he would be unable to do if the flag was flown from a tree or his front porch. He also points to the fact that Mayor Bobby Bright, a neighbor just down the street, is able to have a flagpole outside of his house. 

"I cannot believe that the homeowner's association can be so callous and disrespectful of our nation's flag." Willis said. "The covenants and restrictions against flagpoles should be amended to reflect a more proper and patriotic display of the flag. The current rules are ridiculous and the attitude taken by certain officers in the homeowner's association is disheartening." 

After being notified by mail of his infraction of association policy, Willis, 39, a sales representative, who has lived in Wynlakes for 12 years, replied that he would prefer to keep his new flag pole. He told the Homeowners Association he would also work within the current guidelines and "cut every limb off [a pine] tree [in his front yard] and take about 10 feet out of the top and run Old Glory' up every morning." 

Perhaps Willis' main contention is the different treatment he receives compared to Mayor Bright. When Willis asked about the association allowing Bright to have a flagpole in his front yard; he was told that the mayor, governor or president has the right to a flagpole if they so desire while they live in Wynlakes. Mayor Bright, however, supports Willis' struggle to keep his flag pole saying, "I believe anybody who wants to fly a flag from a pole ought to be able to, unless its something repulsive or offensive to neighbors" 

Willis has been threatened with a lien against his property by the homeowner's association. The value of the lien would continue to increase daily until the flagpole is removed or a compromise can be reached between the parties. Because of the threatened lien, he has enlisted the services of Montgomery attorney Julian McPhillips to help support his fight to keep his flagpole. "American flags are most properly displayed during daylight hours on straight flagpoles," McPhillips said. "If the association rules don't allow for that, then they should be amended." 

"I do not intend to be intimidated into taking my flagpole down," Willis said. "I will fly my flag proudly and in an appropriate manner." 

Willis has until Saturday to remove the flag. If he does not remove the flag he will be called before a meeting of the subdivision's five-member covenant committee. As the deadline for Willis to remove the flag approaches, Willis remains defiant. "This flag is going to stay," said Willis. "The only way my flagpole is coming down is by an order of the court" 

The Montgomery Independent was unable to reach John Livings, the President of the Wynlakes Homeowner's Association or Wayne Sandlin, Manager of the Wynlakes Residential Association, for comment. However, Livings told other media that the association doesn't object to the flag, just the pole. 

Subdivision covenants have had a long history of legal challenges. An attorney contacted by The Independent suggested that were it not for the exception of the mayor's private residence, the homeowners association might be on sound legal ground. 

"However," he said, "one of the primary issues that has caused neighborhood covenants problems is the matter of discrimination." He suggested that if the association made Willis take down his flagpole, it might also be legally required to make the mayor take down his pole. 

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